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Back to school?

Rupert Wyman
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 14, 2013
Posts: 3
Apologies in advance if this is the wrong place to pose such questions or if my question/idea is painfully stupid or if not exactly related to java specifically.

I have a quantitative degree and work in a sort of technical field but didn't take a single computer science course when in school. I am interested in a career related to software development either as respect my current field or maybe some other related field or maybe a fresh start altogether. I am thinking about some structured education like another bachelor's degree to open such options to me.

Is it wrong to think that a certification or BS in computer science would definitely improve my career options for development? Or, would it be worth the time/money? Or even necessary? Some might say, "if I am so interested in development, why not just find an interesting project to enhance your knowledge/skill?" I do not disagree but for me I am less likely to do so without some external pressures such as schoolwork for various reasons. I also wonder about some HR recruiters ignoring resumes like mine because of non-typical background for development in general. Or simply being ignored because of a perceived lack of general computer science knowledge (which would be true). Or maybe I do not understand how the hiring works for this field.

If you are looking at resumes and two candidates, all else equal, including declared development knowledge: one has computer science degree and the other has some other degree (that suggest enough technical aptitude). Do you give preference to the computer science one?

Is there an alternate route of those looking to change careers into development take to gain relevant knowledge and demonstrate proficiency to become competitive for jobs?

Thanks in advance,all. Apologies again for my noob nature.


fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Bartender

Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11477
    
  16

My degree is in a very NON-technical area. I have a BA in theatre.

I then went back to school and got certified to be a secondary school math teacher. did that for a few years.

I then went back to school and took a bunch of CS classes, but did not enroll in any actual degree program. I was hired in my first CS job based on the variety of experience I had, plus the fact that I was the first candidate that the interviewer said EVER got his question right about pointers (don't remember what it was).

So I would not say that a degree is necessary, but certainly some CS courses are.


There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30928
    
158

Rupert,
Welcome to CodeRanch! Your question is perfectly appropriate here in job discussion - it's about jobs.

Since you already have a degree, I don't think a BS in CS is necessary. Many employers look for a degree in "something" - which you have. As Fred said, you do need something you can point to that shows computer knowledge. There are vendor certifications. There are also "certificate" programs at some colleges - you take 4-6 courses instead of a whole program. If you are looking for structure, you might like that later. Or maybe taking some CS courses on coursera. It's free and has structure, but you still need to be self motivated.


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Jayesh A Lalwani
Bartender

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2433
    
  28

I would say that if you can take a degree, you should. You don't need to, but it would be useful. A Cs degree from a good university gives you knowledge of the fundamentals, that will help you in the long run. In th short run, a degree will help you get past HR filters.

Having said that, you don't need a degree. What employers Are looking for is the ability to code. You need to be able to prove to them that you can code. Degree is me way of doing it. Certifications are other. Getting experience through internships are yet another. A degree would be better in the short and long term, but its the most costliest and longest option
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1848
    
  16

Depending where you are (I'm in the UK), many universities offer various conversion courses - postgraduate certificates or even Master's degrees - into computing for graduates in other subjects. These typically last for one full year and may be fairly intensive, covering core computer science topics only, but many of them offer the option of completing a Master's dissertation to get an MSc, which could give you a chance to get practical experience while gaining your qualification e.g. by working on a project in collaboration with a local company.

As many people in the industry will tell you, you don't need a CS degree to do well, especially if you have a strong numerate background as you do, and many of us came into the industry from all kinds of backgrounds (my first degree was in German Language and Literature, and I got a job as a trainee programmer having done one year of CS as a minor subject at university). However, in recent years it has become much more difficult to break into the industry without a relevant degree (at least here in the UK), or even with a degree - one in six CS/IT graduates in the UK can't find jobs - and there are also a lot of equally inexperienced but very cheap CS graduates from low-wage countries in the industry here, which increases pressure on recruiters to exclude "unqualified" candidates and depresses wages. The market where you are may be very different, of course - let's hope so!

On the other hand, if you have been working professionally in another role for a while, then you should have a lot more to offer than a fresh graduate, so you might well be able to leverage your work experience to break into software development e.g. in a company that could use your non-IT skills. Have you explored the possibility of moving into development with your current employer? Many businesses complain that even if they can find people with technical skills, those people lack business skills or specialist understanding of the relevant industry, so somebody who can both code and understand the business would be very valuable.

You should probably start networking to build up contacts with potential employers or professional colleagues in the software industry in your area e.g. join relevant user groups or professional organisations, attend public talks or conferences etc. This will expose you to current ideas and practices in the industry, and may also let you in on the informal recruitment network where somebody says to a colleague over a beer "Hey, we're looking for a new junior developer, do you know anybody?". Also keep an eye on the tech websites etc to find out what's "cool" and get an idea of what the Next Big Thing might be - I find lots of interesting stuff at InfoQ, for example - and of course make sure you check in here at JavaRanch regularly, especially if you need to ask questions (or indeed can answer other people's questions)!

Have you done much coding? Definitely try to get lots of hands-on practice at coding, preferably with the help of a good teacher (i.e. somebody who knows how to code well and preferably how to teach as well), or from a good book or an online course. It's easy to learn bad habits when you're starting out, and it can take a long time to break those habits afterwards! Many people suggest Python as a good language to start with, as it's a pretty clean object-oriented language, so the OO practice will help you with Java, but Python is easier to pick up than Java and has a lot of powerful and sophisticated libraries, including lots of support for maths and science applications. It's taught in the early stages of many CS degrees, and is used by big players in the industry such as Google.

If you want to learn Python, there are some free courses at Coursera (see below), but I recently took the first two courses in O'Reilly School Of Technology's Python Programming Certificate, which is not free (although it's not too expensive either) and provides you with a dedicated tutor who marks your assignments and gives you feedback, answers questions etc. I had an excellent tutor, and I enjoyed the courses which covered the material very thoroughly, so I can highly recommend these courses if you think this approach might be suitable for you. They also offer Java courses, but I don't know if these are any good.

JavaScript is another option, as it seems to be expanding beyond the traditional browser environment into new areas quite rapidly e.g. on the server, or as a database query language in NoSQL DBs, etc. It's easy to code badly in JS, but the language is very powerful if you know how to use it properly. I don't know much JavaScript myself, but we have a very helpful resident JavaScript Ninja here on JavaRanch who can provide lots more advice on JavaScript if you need it.

Finally, I can also recommend Coursera's courses on computer science - they're free, well-structured and give you a focus for your own learning. I'm just getting to the end of the Programming Languages module, which is an excellent course taken from the undergraduate CS degree at the University of Washington, very challenging but also very rewarding and well taught. There are a lot of CS courses starting in the next few weeks, so why not sign up for one and start your learning process now? Another option is Udacity, which has fewer courses but they look very good as well, and some of them are more flexible than Coursera, allowing you to study at your own pace.

Good luck!


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Rupert Wyman
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 14, 2013
Posts: 3
Fred, Jeanne, Jayesh, Chris: thank you very much for your responses.

I am intrigued by Coursera. What amazing schools! Seems like those in computer-oriented fields would be very welcoming to non-traditional education structure but perhaps I am bias. Thanks for the tip, I will look into this. At least verify my interest in the field before taking the plunge back to school.

Also, the O'Reilly certificates look good. Maybe Coursera CS theory courses+O'Reilly certificate in a particular language or two? A lot cheaper than tuition for another bachelor's. Probably no more student loans to tack onto the ones I already have not paid back.

I am realizing that my question is more about optimization of correct answer rather than finding a correct answer. Lots of good options even before learning about Coursera and O'Reilly. Since I have no rush makes sense to proceed by trial and error starting with least costly options.

Again, thanks Fred, Jeanne, Jayesh and Chris, for sharing your comments.

chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1848
    
  16

Glad we could give you some pointers. Just one caveat: the material covered by the various non-degree courses we've described above will be very helpful, but don't be under any illusions that employers will necessarily be impressed. Employers/recruiters generally don't give much value to certificates obtained via commercial training or short courses, regardless of the actual quality of the material covered, although higher-level certification e.g. for Java Architects is more marketable. So you will learn a lot from the kind of courses discussed above, but you will probably still need some other way to prove to a potential employer that you know this stuff e.g. through a hands-on project of some kind, open-source contributions, practical experience with another company etc. Or a degree, of course!
Rupert Wyman
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 14, 2013
Posts: 3
chris webster wrote:Glad we could give you some pointers. Just one caveat: the material covered by the various non-degree courses we've described above will be very helpful, but don't be under any illusions that employers will necessarily be impressed. Employers/recruiters generally don't give much value to certificates obtained via commercial training or short courses, regardless of the actual quality of the material covered, although higher-level certification e.g. for Java Architects is more marketable. So you will learn a lot from the kind of courses discussed above, but you will probably still need some other way to prove to a potential employer that you know this stuff e.g. through a hands-on project of some kind, open-source contributions, practical experience with another company etc. Or a degree, of course!


Thank you for your responses, Chris. A lot of good information I had not considered. I appreciate you taking time to share your thoughts.
Jayesh A Lalwani
Bartender

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2433
    
  28

Another thing to note that since you are from a mathematical background, don't short yourself on your own background. A quant who can code is extremely valuable. With cloud computing growing leaps and bounds, the whole field of using statistical analytic techniques to predict human behavior is going to explode like a nuclear bomb in the next decade. Take that to the bank. The most recent and popular example was the 530 guy who predicted Obama's win this election. That really planted the flag for quantitative analysis. My employer uses very similar techniques for mortgages. This is like the new frontier now. Quantatitive analysis has so many applications, and cloud computing makes doing analysis a lot cheaper than it used to. The conditions are right for nuclear fission. The technology has caught up to the science.
David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
fred rosenberger wrote:My degree is in a very NON-technical area. I have a BA in theatre.

I then went back to school and got certified to be a secondary school math teacher. did that for a few years.

I then went back to school and took a bunch of CS classes, but did not enroll in any actual degree program. I was hired in my first CS job based on the variety of experience I had, plus the fact that I was the first candidate that the interviewer said EVER got his question right about pointers (don't remember what it was).

So I would not say that a degree is necessary, but certainly some CS courses are.


I love people like you. You are a good example of how you "being good" is good enough to become a developer, regardless of your past. Inspiring indeed !
David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
Rupert Wyman wrote:Apologies in advance if this is ------- my noob nature.



Try doing as much as you can on your own. If I had a chance to go to back to school, I would only take core classes like - Comp Architecture, Algorithms, C, OS etc and learn all the buzz words myself (HTML, JSP, Python, Ruby etc).
I am not a fan of College, so my advice is biased. I learned more on my own than I did in college
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
 
subject: Back to school?